Co-parenting isn’t always easy and this year Covid-19 and the stringent lockdown restrictions have presented many challenges for families and couples who are separated and co-parenting.
The pandemic forced parents to enter a new era as they found themselves becoming their children’s teacher and only playmate whilst also trying to reassure them that things would be alright, even when quite often the parents themselves were fearful and uncertain as to what the future might hold.
Many parents have needed to navigate their way through changing regulations and often required alternative arrangements to be able to positively co-parent their children. Despite the challenges faced, most have managed to successfully find their way through the stringent lockdown regime, working together positively to keep their children’s best interests at heart.
As lockdown lifts and the country slowly starts to get back to a sense of normality, (however different this normality may be), the co-parenting challenges similarly have changed. As parents look toward September and the hope that their children will return to school, they are now considering what this might mean in terms of child care arrangements.
Many children will have been away from school for almost six months by September. A return to the school routine may provide challenges for many, however this shift might be coupled with significant changes to the home set up, particularly where contact arrangements may have altered or become more flexible – something that may or may not continue once the children have returned to school.
Some typical questions we are currently being asked include:
1.We have a Court Order but we agreed to changes during the lockdown process, do I have to return to the previous order or can I stick to the new regime?
A Court Order remains enforceable unless and until it is replaced by a further order or it is no longer enforceable due to the child’s age, (some orders will cease when a child reaches a certain age). That said, many orders will make provision for changes taking place by having a paragraph which will usually include words to the effect of ‘or and any such times as can be agreed’, this allows for some changes to be made to the agreement if agreed by both parents.
It is advisable that any changes are recorded in writing alongside the existing order. If both parties are happy to maintain the new arrangement then this presents very little difficulties. It is also possible for a Consent Order can be submitted to the Court amending the terms of the existing order.
Clearly where one parent wishes to return to the terms of the previous order and one wishes to maintain the new arrangements difficulties will arise. In these circumstances, it is advisable that both parties either attend mediation or take legal advice at an early stage to work towards a resolution.
2.What is the best way to talk to my child about what is happening to their daily routine?
This depends on the parent’s circumstances, the age of your child and their understanding of situation. The older the child the more likely it is they will have an opinion about the new arrangements, the positives and negatives and ultimately if they want them to continue. A child’s ascertainable wishes and feelings are factors to be considered.
It is also important to ensure that older children feel a part of the decision-making process and understand the reasons things might be changing. This has been a difficult time for children and they may have questions about time spent with both parents, coronavirus and about going back to school – and they may have their own anxieties.
It is crucial that children receive a consistent message from both parents during this transitional period and are helped to deal with any worries. There are a wealth of resources available to help reduce anxiety and worry amongst children, a small sample include:
3.My child is worried about the new routine and what school is going to be like.
It is always best, subject to your child’s age, to provide them with appropriate information about their new routine and school days. This will help them prepare for their new daily pattern whilst also reassuring them, with some certainty, that although they may not see both of their parents as much as they have in recent months, they will still be able to maintain meaningful time with both of them.
During lockdown, it is understandable that family routines might have changed and some changed significantly. Following a new routine may be unsettling for some children, so it could help to re-establish the school routine before the beginning of term so that there are not two tranches of change taking place at the same time.
4.My ex-partner and I have been able to talk to one another positively during lockdown. I want to be able to build on this and record the agreements that we have reached.
Many people, as they have had to work through a very difficult situation, have been able to communicate with one another better. Some old difficulties have become resolved or permanently put to one side and co-parents are wanting to build upon this positive step forward. Many co-parents are assisted by entering into a parenting plan. This will set out future arrangements putting strategies in place to overcome difficulties and assist moving forward. It is often beneficial to seek advice from a lawyer about the preparation of a parenting plan.
It is an understatement to say that this year has been a roller-coaster both emotionally and physically and one that has presented many challenges to many people. As we move into the next phase, getting back to a sense of normality hopefully this information will assist in being able to positively co-parent.
We would be happy to discuss and advise upon any issues that you are experiencing, please get in touch with Jo Lofthouse at Raworths.
Published on 1 September 2020